One important feature of capitalism is the production of social surplus by entrepreneurs to be sold in the market for profit. The preoccupation with profit has led capitalism to evolve in various techniques of marketing and advertising in business in order to create artificial wants among people. In sociology, the consumption of goods is more than just physical satisfaction and enjoyment of the commodity being sold.
In modern and contemporary societies, buying and consumption of goods is more related to social status and social prestige rather than to the personal and physical satisfaction of the thing. Consumption pattern becomes an indicator of one’s social status in society. Thus, when one buys a burger, he/she prefers to one to fast-food outlet that suits with his/her social class and stature in society. A rich person would probably buy it in a prestigious fast-food chain rather in cheap sidewalk buy-one-take-one burger.
For young people buying expensive brands of goods to accepted in a peer group. The use and enjoyment of the product becomes a secondary concern. The primary concern now shifts to the social significance of the product bought, to the sign or brand attached to it. In an age characterized by what Baudrillard calls as simulacra, commercial signs or brand names assume some kind of life on their own apart from the physical goods where these signs are attached. And through seductive advertising people become more attracted and fascinated with commercial logos, trademarks and brand names when buying goods.
Sales and marketing with their seductive advertising techniques being shown in traditional and social media lure people to buy goods and services they do not actually need. They also employ the repetition techniques to create subliminal effects to people’s minds that lead to impulsive buying.
The strategy of repeating advertising messages to promote consumption which can harm people’s spiritual values did not pass unnoticed by the Pope. He is aware in the papal encyclical Centesimus Annus that the technique of repetition in advertisements can lure people to buy goods that they do not actually need. Oftentimes, subliminal messages hidden in repetitious ads can create a psychological effect that make people crave for goods which are not essential in their life. This phenomenon called consumerism has been pointed out the Pope as highly damaging to people’s spiritual well-being. Says St. Pope John Paul II:
“A given culture reveals its overall understanding of life through the choices it makes in production and consumption. It is here that the phenomenon of consumerism arises. In singling out new needs and new means to meet them, one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of man which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones. If, on the contrary, a direct appeal is made to his instincts—while ignoring in various ways the reality of the person as intelligent and free—then consumer attitudes and life-styles can be created which are objectively improper and often damaging to his physical and spiritual health”(CA, n. 36).
The Pope is aware that advertising industry does not possess criteria for correctly distinguishing new and higher forms of satisfying human needs from artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality. Thus, he recommends education of consumers on their power of choice, a greater sense of responsibility for producers and a necessary government intervention to prevent false and harmful advertisements (CA, n. 36).
The Church is concerned with the inversion of values and materialist tendencies of capitalist advertising in creating consumer attitudes and lifestyles. It does not oppose the people’s aspiration to live a good life by consuming a wide array of goods created by contemporary society. “It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards “having” rather than “being”, and which wants more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself” (CA, n. 36).
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